Kamal Addaraarachchi - Agni Dahaya

The subject matter of Jayantha Chandrasiri's second film 'Guerilla Marketing' is nothing less than the State of the Nation. What are we as a society and where are we heading?

The director casts an imperious eye on the venality of politicians, the insidious stranglehold of the advertising industry, the dark side of the human mind and the sunny side of the human heart. The film is a love poem, a political protest and a reflection on the clash of civilisations. It is these intermingling themes (to be sure not entirely resolved) which make it possible to view the film at various levels in keeping with different tastes and gives it its peculiar flavour.

On the main thematic level is a clash between personalities which resolves itself into a political clash. The two characters involved are the aspiring President Gregory Mahadikaram (Jackson Anthony) and the top advertising executive heading his promotional campaign Tisara Dissanayake (Kamal Addaraarachchi).

he whiz kid advertising man devises an ingenious campaign of boosting Adikaram's image by means of word-of-mouth propaganda spreading in concentric circles. But the campaign devours its creator and the main story-line is about how Tisara struggles to get out of the neurosis induced by his own mendacious campaign.

There is a surreal quality to this encounter which takes place in various historic settings suggesting that this is a primordial struggle between arch foes coming down the centuries. Note for example where Mahadikaram dressed as for ball room dancing performs the Kandyan dance (while claiming to hate the sound of drums) suggesting subtly how a deracinated ruling class can yet appropriate the native ways which they profess to hate.

At this level then the film is a commentary on the crass opportunism of politicians who would exploit any issue to come to power and the acquiescence of a pliant advertising industry in this act of mass fraud.

On a different level the film also involves a conflict between tradition and what passes for modernity in our times. However this itself suggests a dualism peculiar to a divided personality and driven home by Tisara's neurosis. For Tisara is the Native Son who has been swallowed up by the Big Bad City.

In his youth he was a promising native dancer but he has forsaken his roots for the flesh pots in the unreal westernised world of advertising just as he has spurned the hand of his village cousin to marry a city beauty. But Jayantha Chandrasiri is too subtle a film-maker to succumb to a Mannichean world of black-and-white. For the village cousin (Yasodha Wimaladharma) herself returns from a Harvard education to take up the top post in the advertising firm.

In fact the two young women stand for two sides of Tisara's own character. Suramya the cousin whose father is the village gurunnanse retains her simple ways and tastes inspite of her western immersion while Rangi, Tisara's wife (Sangeetha Weeraratne) stands for the city ways. But Tisara can not quite do without either as their three-cornered relationship in the advertising firm shows and while his return to sanity is indeed through Suramya's intervention it does not involve a wholesale embracing of the ways of tradition since he continues to be married to Rangi but more of that later.

In fact Tisara is very much a symbol of a generation of village youth arrived in the city over the last two decades or so and sucked into the more fashionable industries such as the mass media. They know that their future lies in the city and even beyond in the so-called global village but they can not help casting at least an occasional backward glance at the roots they have left behind. In fact some of the more opportunistic of them in the electronic media have even made use of these native connections for good measure.

On the contrary Gregory Mahadikaram is a much more composed character. The scion of the anglicised urban elite groomed for political office from his youth he is a graduate of Illinois University who had learnt modern dancing there although now he would profess to wear the national dress and ape the native ways.

The epitome of the cynical, manipulative and scheming politician he is a nevertheless a plausible rogue and Jackson Anthony plays the role to perfection bringing out the man's cynicism and ruthlessness but also his power to sway his fellowmen. In fact it is a memorable epic fight between the advertising man who creates the image and the image which ultimately invades its creator's mind.

Kamal Addaraarachchi is also brilliant in his transition from the yuppy creative director to the tormented mental patient and the director handles this relationship with a whiff of humour which is rare in a Sinhala film. In fact this handling of complex political and personal relationships, the visual imagery and Premasiri Khemadasa's stunning music score drawing on folk rhythms and drum beats invest the whole film with a pleasant aura.

Beyond the pleasant cinematic experience, however, we return to the hard political core of the film. For make no mistake this is a serious political film warning us of a new age of barbarism where the money bags will be all powerful and the demagogues and their cohorts will be manipulating minds. But contrary to some readings the film is open-ended. It is no triumphal war cry at the victory of tradition for the opposing forces are too formidable for that.

The drummer might ride in the back of the car in the last reel but he has to be smuggled in there by his Harvard-educated daughter, the advertising baroness. Tisara might have returned to sanity through the pathways of the ancient drum beats but Charles Edwin Gregory McCarthy Mahadikaram is on the Presidential throne in all his panoply and it will take more than an antic drum to banish him.